The city government in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina -- which is considered to be one of the most vulnerable areas in the storm’s path -- has adopted both, along with a few others, in an effort to reach as many people as possible. Some towns, like Hilton Head Island, are encouraging users to use and monitor geographic-specific hashtags that are more likely to include hyper-local updates and instructions from authorities. In a storm update posted to the city’s website, the government encouraged remaining residents to adopt #FlorenceHHI as their hashtag of choice. These social media-focussed efforts have a proven history of providing vital, life-saving information and communication during and after a crisis. During the record-breaking Hurricane Harvey last year, many stranded Houstanites were rescued from rising waters and other dangers after posting to hashtags like #SOSHarvey and #helphouston, after the storm prevented them from reaching 9-1-1. The unprecedented amount of aid provided thanks to hashtags and vigitalant social media manager has inspired numerous news accounts in the weeks that followed the storm, as well as a University of Texas research project. Despite the potential benefits of using hashtags as a primary information source during these circumstances, it’s easy to see where social media can just as easily go very, very wrong in our greatest hour of need. Tuesday night, a hashtag featuring a misspelling of the hurricane’s “name,”was featured on the “Trending” feed on Twitter. Because Twitter automatically fills trending hashtags when the first letters are typed by users, many concerned neighbors, helpful well-wishers, and news outlets were all tweeting #HurricaneFlorerence, causing widespread confusion for those trying to follow any weather updates. Additionally, anyone relying on social media for storm updates and disaster relief information should be wary of malicious rumors, disingenuous memes, and other misinformation, which often travel quickly during chaotic events like this. FEMA has set up a “rumor control” site meant to combat this issue.
Please help share this information about evacuating with service animals & pets. If you are leaving today, follow local official accounts to get the latest information about routes and other safety guidance: @SCEMD @NCEmergency @VDEM #Florence https://t.co/b9bWYqJ1RZ— FEMA (@fema) September 12, 2018
Plus, nearly all of the agencies and police departments mentioned above also calling 911 in case of an emergency before calling for help on social media, in their respective Twitter descriptions. “Do not use social media as a way to contact first responders, use 911,” said one representative for the the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11th District at a press briefing on Tuesday, which was later quoted on Twitter. “We don’t want people relying on social media to contact rescuers.” All this to say, social media can be a great last-resort when the going gets rough, but victims of natural disasters -- and any other crisis -- should always seek help through more traditional means first.
We have created a rumor control page for Hurricane #Florence that will be updated regularly. During disasters, it’s critical to avoid spreading false information. Always check with official sources before sharing. https://t.co/PAjGQZJ1Nt pic.twitter.com/z4L0r1YjAT— FEMA (@fema) September 12, 2018